The Australian has been caught out misrepresenting the views of the richest man in Japan, Korean-Japanese IT billionaire Masayoshi Son, as part of its campaign against the National Broadband Network. Over the weekend, the newspaper ran a story headed “NBN a waste of money, says Japan IT mogul”.


A Crikey reader decided to check Son’s actual comments, made at his launch of a new broadband network on Friday.

The relevant section of the video is at 36.40 when The Australian’s Tokyo correspondent Rick Wallace rises to ask a question. Wallace’s question itself is interesting — including the Freudian slip at the start where he confuses News Ltd and Australia, his description of the NBN as “unfortunate”, and his mistake in saying it will cost “$42 billion of taxpayers’ money” when the maximum government contribution will be ~$26 billion. Implicit in Wallace’s question, too, is the assumption that rolling out a fibre network in Japan, which has a population density of 336 people per square kilometre, is comparable to rolling out a network in Australia, where the population density is three people per square kilometre.

And Son does indeed say “it’s a waste” and “stupid”, but then goes on to describe the “waste”: maintaining a copper network while putting in a new fibre network. Maintaining an old copper network is expensive, Son says. Copper networks more than 20 years old should be “taken away” and “100% replaced” with a new fibre network. Son’s comments about the need to remove copper were mentioned only in passing near the end of Wallace’s piece.

Replacing a copper network with a fibre network is precisely the NBN plan via its agreement with Telstra to move its copper network customers over to the the NBN and remove Telstra’s ancient and costly copper network from service. While saying a fibre network can be rolled out without taxpayer funding — possible perhaps in Japan but not even the Coalition believes that about Australia — Son seems to endorse NBN’s strategy of dumping the copper network.

The Australian has persistently run the line advanced by many NBN critics, that the copper network can be a viable high-speed broadband carrier, despite its high and rising maintenance cost, its speed limitations and the asymmetric nature of the broadband service available via ADSL. The newspaper has also run a scare campaign about people being “forced off” the copper network (while ignoring the complaints of people who are forced to use the copper network for “broadband”). And last week there were media reports that Malcolm Turnbull had convinced shadow cabinet to adopt a policy in the copper network would play an important role in providing a minimum 12 Mbps broadband speed.

Son’s comments appear at odds with both.

Peter Fray

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